KINGSLAND — A group of residents who remember the worst disaster in Camden County history have a good reason for trying to establish a memorial that goes beyond a marker or plaque.
“The main thing is we need to remember we had 29 people who died in the service of our country,” said Robert Sweatt Jr., Camden County Probate Court judge.
Sweatt was practicing law in Camden County the day of the Feb. 3, 1971, explosion at the Thiokol plant in Woodbine. The plant manufactured flares that were used by the military during the war in Vietnam.
Another 50 people were injured, most seriously, when the chemicals used to manufacture the flares caught fire and exploded with enough force to throw people, some on fire, dozens of yards into a marsh.
Because of those memories, Sweatt is providing free office space in downtown Kingsland for organizers trying to establish a permanent Thiokol memorial. Sweatt told members of the Thiokol Memorial Project they could use the office for the foreseeable future.
Jannie Everett, whose mother was among the seriously injured from the blast, said the goal is to have a permanent memorial for the 50th anniversary of the explosion in 2021. Currently, organizers are busy preparing to commemorate the 45th anniversary at Chris Gilman Stadium, home of the Camden County High School football team.
“We want to talk about the explosion and how people got together,” she said.
The permanent office space will enable organizers to conduct oral histories of those who played a role at the plant or as part of the community response.
They are looking for doctors, nurses and staff at the eight hospitals that treated the injured and the first responders from 14 municipalities in the region.
There were also many residents with stories to tell such as those who jumped into their vehicles and drove to the Thiokol plant to drive victims to the hospital and help in any way possible.
There also was the community response to help the families devastated by the loss of loved ones.
“Ma and Pa jumped into trucks,” Everett said. “They knew what happened. We want to remember the service of those people.”
The research has cleared up some inaccuracies, including incorrectly spelled names, one incorrect first name, one victim named twice by his first and middle names and one victim not named in many old news accounts.
“We had to go through the records with a historian in Glynn County,” Everett said.
Everett said organizers were looking for a location to better coordinate interviews with people whose recollections of the explosion will be recorded on videos, voice recordings and in writing. So far, they have managed to contact more than 300 people who played a role or had a family member who worked at the factory that day.
She said the offer by Sweatt was unexpected and very appreciated.
“He knew a lot of people who were involved that day,” Everett said. “We want everyone to come in and capture their oral history.”
For more information, visit thiokolmemorial.org.
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